News Column

Ebola Panic Spreads to Nigeria

August 11, 2014

Kayode Ekundayo, Femi Akinola and Nahimah Ajikanle-Nurudeen

Nobody ever thought that it would spread to Nigeria so fast but with the arrival of Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old health consultant in Liberia on July 20 with Ebola virus and his subsequent death five days later, the nation is now gripped by fear. Sawyer reportedly did not show Ebola symptoms when he boarded the plane to Lagos, but by the time he arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), he was vomiting and had diarrhoea.

It was later reported by Liberian Media that Sawyer 'terribly ill' and might have known he was infected with the virus before travelling to Nigeria aboard the Asky Airline flight as he was seeing at the James Spriggs Payne's Airport momoria, in a review of Close Circuit Television (CCTV) deliberately avoiding contact with people.

Fear grips Nigerians

Nearly 50 other passengers on the flight that brought Sawyer, though under close watch of the federal and state government, Nigerians are afraid and the panic is heightened on a daily basis. Within the last three months when the viral disease was discovered in Liberia, Sierra- Leone and Guinea, about 750 people have died of the viral disease, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), while thousands are still hospitalised.

The fear, according to those who spoke to Weekly Trust, arises from the fact that before the death of Sawyer, he had come in contact with some Nigerians at the airport and even at the hospital and these people have families and relations whom they may have met unknowingly during this period.

After the death of Sawyer on July 25, Nigeria recorded its first casualty from the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) on Tuesday. This came hours after a female medical doctor, who also participated in managing the Liberian- American was confirmed on Monday by the minister of health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, to have contracted the deadly virus.

Apart from the female doctor and the matron, six other people suspected to have been infected with the virus are being quarantined at the IDH Yaba.

The number of people to have died in the worst Ebola outbreak in history has risen to at least 932, the WHO said on Wednesday, as overworked hospital staff struggled to curtail the epidemic and in many cases became its front-line victims.

Business booms in Obalende

Despite the virus, business activities still boom around the vicinity of First Consultant Hospital where Sawyer died of EVD.

The hospital located in the hearth of the busy Obalende district of Lagos, had people doing their normal activities in the area despite the public fear on the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the state.Business and trading activities were at their peak when Weekly Trust visited the hospital during the week.

The area was as busy as it used to be before the outbreak of Ebola in the country after the death of the Liberian.

Also, contrary to the claim that the environment had being quarantined since the outbreak, the premises was open with two security personal at the gate of the compound, while some construction engineers were seen working on the building.

The Lagos government had announced that it followed WHO standards in handling the situation since it recorded the first case in Nigeria with Sawyer's death.

Scores of people who spoke with Weekly Trust correspondents expressed fear over the spread of the disease but said they have no choice because that is where they earn their daily survival, while some don't even know the severity of the situation yet.

Mrs. Sotunde Joke, who runs a restaurant opposite the First Consultant Hospital, said still enjoys patronage as usual, while a man who sells suya right in front of the hospital said he doesnot see why he should not do his normal business.

He said he has being selling suya at the spot for eight years now and he has ready-made customers whom he could not afford to lose

Security at the Ports The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in conjunction with the Port Health Centre have deployed personnel to the two arrival halls for the purpose of testing arriving passengers for signs and symptoms of thedeadly virus.

Arriving passengers are to be processed first by port health personnel, who are expected to carry out necessary tests on every passenger with special devices that do not permit physical contact. Those found to be free of any signs or symptoms would proceed to the immigration area for other formalities.

A holding area has also been provided at the tarmac for suspected cases while index cases are expected to be isolated in a designated area outside the airport for further examination and treatment.

When our correspondent visited the MMIA yesterday to observe the process of screening, he waws not allowed access to the arrival hall.

Airport officials said it was "impossible to access the controlled areas without guidance from relevant personal."

He also said Ebola is being treated as an epidemic thus except one is properly kitted and guided, they can't permit access.

The official who craved anonymity said: "All I can assure you is that all those arriving Nigeria are being tested with special devices."For now he said there haven't been passengers who tested positive to Ebola.

"We are giving the Ebola crisis the seriousness it deserves," he assured.

Lagos calls for volunteers, offers life insurance cover

Lagos State government raised a Rapid Response Team (RRT), whose main job was to track all contacts of persons exposed to the passenger with EVD. Thereafter, the contract tracing team started following 70 contacts. Dr. Jide Idris, state commissioner for health explained that these contacts of the EVD case were linked to clinical support.

At the initial stage of what later turned to be a very serious challenge to the entire country and the West Africa sub-region, Dr. Idris explained that eight highly suspect contacts were kept at an isolated medical facility. On Monday, the state health management team led by Idris disclosed that two suspect cases,who had fever and were under close observation had tested negative for the virus.

However, within 48 hours after, Idris who said suspect cases will continue to be monitored until the end of the 21days of incubation period from their exposure to late Sawyer, confirmed that one nurse among the suspect contacts had died while additional four tested positive.

"Her being infected is largely due to the fact that she was a primary contact when the index case presented. At that point in time, the disease was not known to have been imported into the country", Idris explained.

Even among the four that tested positive, Idris noted that two among them are on serious stage, noting that the treatment being given to the suspects are merely supportive.

The Lagos State Health Management Team recognised that there have been some rumours and mis-information circulating about Ebola. Thus, in attempt to put the record straight, figures and facts right, government has been distributing communication materials and embarked on sensitisation on what to do to prevent being infected with the virus.

According to Idris, the collaboration of the federal and state governments will continue and expand to achieve country-wide readiness. He said the state is ready to turn on any medical facility in the state, including Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), to be used as an isolation point for suspects.

"We must not panic. This case of EVD in Lagos has tested our readiness. While elements of the response worked very quickly and well, there is still much work to do," Idris said.

On the effect of the four that have tested positive, Idris explained that secondary contact tracing, the relatives andfriends of the positive carrier has commenced in earnest. He said 27of them have been traced as at Tuesday adding: "We are still counting."

He appealed to business men and women dealing in materials and equipment critically needed in the management of Ebola not to cash-in on this unfortunate situation by hiking theprices of their commodities like gloves, sanitisers, decontamination equipment and chemicals.

Idris stressed that the essence of the briefing was to highlight the mode of transmission of EVD stressing that the disease istransmissible through direct contact with broken skin, mucous membranes and secretions of an infected person or through direct contact with materials and surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person.

"This is a call for vigilance as human to human transmission is only achieved by physical contact with a person who is acutely and gravely ill from Ebola virus through body fluids such as blood, urine, stool, saliva, breast milk and semen. Burial ceremonies where mourners, including family members have direct contact with patients who died of Ebola have also played a role in the spread of the disease," Idris said.

The commissioner noted that in Africa, infection has also occurred through the handling of infected chimpanzees, monkeys, guerillas, fruit bats, antelopes and porcupine, adding that there has been no case of transmission by domestic animals like pigs.

He urged everyone to be vigilant especially with regards to relating with people who are ill, stressing that there is no cause to panic as long as basic precautionary measures such as hand washing, adoption of appropriate waste management and enhanced personal and environmental hygiene are adhered to.

He added that these measures are important, especially when large congregationsare expected with a mix of people from other parts of the world and commended the responsiveness and cooperation received from the Redeemed Christian Church of God in this regard during the church'son-going convention.

While appreciating various health workers who have selflessly committed to this cause of preventing the spread of the virus in the areas of contact tracing, case management and decontamination, the commissioner appealed to other health workers like doctors, nurses, environmental health workers and phlebotomists to come on board and complement the state health workforce.

He also appealed to striking doctors to return to work and urged other health workers to sheath their swords and embrace team work in the drive to stem the spread of the disease in the state.

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Original headline: Ebola - Panic Spreads as More Nigerians Test Positive



Source: Copyright Daily Trust. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).


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